MDJ on iPhone is really cool

Well, we think so, at least. We can’t really take sharp pictures of it, but try mailing yourself a PDF issue of MDJ or MWJ, making sure you don’t compress it with Zip or StuffIt or anything else. Then read the message on iPhone – at the bottom of the page, you’ll see an attachments button that lets you open and read the PDF right there on the phone, with the proper font rendering and everything.

Frankly, this surprises us, but we’re not complaining. OK, we’re complaining about two things:

  1. iPhone’s PDF reader does not recognize hyperlinks within a PDF document. You can see that something is a link from the blue text, but tapping it does nothing.

  2. Even though MDJ is presented in two columns, iPhone’s double-tap-zoom metaphor does nothing but zoom the full page to fit the iPhone’s screen. We even tried testing an older issue of MDJ that had PDF articles defined for the text, allowing Acrobat and Acrobat Reader to follow stories across columns and pages automaticcally. No dice – iPhone’s PDF viewer knows nothing about them, so they don’t provide any advantages.

    (Ironically, we stopped including the “article” features in MDJ and MWJ in 2002 with the new design because Adobe InDesign has no way to generate them from columns and text frames on the page. InDesign has its own PDF export that does a good job in many areas, but this has been a glaring omission since version 1.0.)

We’ve always compressed MDJ and MWJ issues for delivery for a few reasons:

  • The #1 error we used to get in delivery was “mailbox full,” so naturally we want the issues to be as small as possible.

  • In the days of Mac OS 9, compression was necessary to include HFS metadata, like the file type 'PDF ' and the creator type 'CARO', necessary to allow double-clicking the file to open Acrobat.

  • When we started this 11 years ago, most people didn’t have broadband services, and those outside the US were slower than those here. Downloading big files could take a long time.

We’ve long considered ditching the compression and sending the file as MIME type "application/pdf" because Mac OS X’s “Mail” application can display uncompressed PDFs inline, but that would have left people who want compressed files without options, on top of rewriting our software to do the new thing.</P.

But now, since mail is so spammily broken to begin with, we have ZIP-compressed RSS feeds for people who want compressed files, and Apple continues to improve the experience for people using its products if we mail uncompressed PDF files. The RSS feeds are irrelevant to the iPhone – it redirects display of any RSS URL to Apple’s “reader.mac.com” Web application, but reader.mac.com cannot access or display secure RSS feeds like ours, so at present, you can’t view MDJ or MWJ RSS on the iPhone.

Therefore, starting around 1 August (2007.08.01), we’re going to change our delivery system to mail PDF versions of MDJ and MWJ without compression, as MIME type "application/pdf", encoded with Base-64. We’ll also add a new “no E-mail” type of subscription for people who prefer compressed files in RSS – when a new issue is published, we won’t send you E-mail at all, just let you find it in the RSS feed. (After all, if you want compressed files, it makes no sense to mail you an uncompressed PDF or setext version that you don’t want. If you still want those, they’re still available, on top of the RSS feeds available to all subscribers.)

We’ll announce this in MDJ and MWJ also, but since the “StuffIt file in a Binhex wrapper” format of MDJ and MWJ PDF delivery hasn’t really changed in over a decade (except to move to the “newer” StuffIt 5 archives in the late 1990s), we thought we’d give some of you a heads-up in case you have mail filters, automatic processing, or anything similar. Most of you won’t notice any difference except that PDF issues won’t need to be decompressed before viewing. In most modern mail applications, you’ll see an enclosure icon that opens the issue with a single click – and in iPhone, you can tap the enclosure to read it. The coolness factor there isn’t going to wear off for a while around here.